RAJKOT/AHMEDABAD/SURAT: “Free electricity, government jobs, unemployment stipend for youth without jobs and a monthly allowance for aged women ''. These phrases can be heard as a group of youth, wearing caps bearing the broom symbol, makes their way, sloganeering, through the streets and bye lanes of Varachha, a suburb in South Gujarat town of Surat, that harbours the diamond and embroidery units.
The Aam Aadmi Party which has grabbed a substantial number of eyeballs and headlines in the upcoming Gujarat elections is replicating the Punjab and Delhi model here. Its manifesto isn’t out yet but the party has been talking about 300 units of free electricity a month, Rs 3,000 for unemployed youth and Rs 1,000 for every adult woman every month, 80 per cent quota for local youth in private sector jobs, Rs 40 per day for the upkeep of each cow and reverting to old pension scheme. A whole bouquet of incentives for every segment that constitutes the demography of south Gujarat.
“Gujaraties have never run after freebies, everything comes from the tax we pay,” says Bhargav Sohagia, a resident of Varachha and an entrepreneur in the hospitality and service sector.” Refusing to comment on who has advantage between Alpesh Kathiriya, the AAP candidate and Kishorbhai Kanani of BJP, he says “It’s about who is able to gain the trust of the public – am sure diamond merchants recognise their jewels well.”
While there is a huge perception of AAP’s growing popularity in the state, many Gujarati’s are concerned about the possible slowing down of progress and infrastructure amidst AAP’s plan to give away freebies in bid to achieve their political goals. “Gujarat residents have always been looking ahead of the curve. Better ports, world class infrastructure facilities, airports and services which boosts business and jobs have always been the demanded of communities here across all classes,” says Anamoy Mitra, Partner in an aviation and logistic firm, XPlore World, based out of Gujarat for over 2 decades.
Echoing Mitra’s sentiments Bhavesh Patel who is in the weaving business of Surat adds, “In fact, they don’t not rely on the government sometimes and are even ready to pay for facilities that boost business,” he says.
AAP volunteers admit that the focus is in Surat and adjoining seats in South Gujarat where there is some chance of winning. The optimism is in the wake of the party’s fair show in municipal polls in which it has bagged 27 of 120 seats. Of the total 16 seats in Surat under the general category, AAP supporters are hopeful to give a good fight in at least five seats. “However, in the wake of a triangular fight in these seats it is difficult to gauge the eventual winner, as one may just eat into the vote share of both top two candidates,” says Shyam Parekh, a senior political analyst of Gujarat.
There is some traction in Saurashtra, where the party’s CM candidate, Ishudan Gadvi, a popular TV anchor, is contesting from Khambalia seat in Dwarka district. But his vote base is limited though he claims to have the support of the Ahir, or the cowbreeder community. However, on CM face, many believe the announcement of Gopal Italia, a more popular and strong AAP candidate from Katargam of Surat region, would have spelt better prospects for AAP.
But in North and Central Gujarat, the contest is still bipolar, between Congress and the BJP. While both the Congress and the BJP wonder whose votes will be cut by AAP, the opinion is that it is unlikely to cross the double-digit mark.
With cars from outside the state being used for campaigning in the state, the AAP is also having to fight the perception of being outside entity, especially being its first full-fledged fight in 181 seats. “AAP’s visibility is definitely strong, but still there is a trust deficit of Kejriwal being looked upon as a person from outside the state ,” says Sohel Kadri, an entrepreneur in HR solutions and travel segment, operating from multi-locations in Gujarat.